Emmerdale’s resident vicar Ashley Thomas (John Middleton) will be diagnosed with early onset vascular dementia as part of a storyline that has seen the ITV soap work alongside the Alzheimer’s Society.
Emotional scenes to be shown on Thursday 19 November will see Ashley break down in despair, knowing how bleak his future is now going to be. But viewers will also see Ashley agonising over whether he should tell partner Harriet about his diagnosis.
Alzheimer’s Society is advising on scripts to ensure Ashley’s symptoms and diagnosis show a realistic representation of someone living with dementia. A dementia support worker has also visited the Emmerdale set to advise John Middleton on how best to portray some of the trickier scenes in Ashley’s dementia journey.
The actor, who has been a mainstay on Emmerdale since 1996, said of the collaboration: “The help Emmerdale is getting from Alzheimer’s Society is invaluable as I believe very strongly that for the sake of the people with this condition, their families, friends and carers we need to get this story right.”
Series producer Kate Oates added: “Dementia is one of the biggest health issues we face today, whether being diagnosed ourselves, or through a member of the family or a friend being affected.
“John Middleton is a fantastic actor and in Ashley he has created a rounded, multi-faceted character. So although giving him this story was a difficult decision, as there is as yet no cure for dementia, we knew we were giving it to a safe pair of hands and know John’s portrayal will be realistic and deeply affecting.”
In the UK alone, 850,000 people are living with a form of dementia. It is estimated nearly 150,000 people have vascular dementia, which is caused by problems with blood supply to the brain – for example, after a stroke, or due to a history of vascular disease.
Speaking about the plotline, Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We’re delighted Emmerdale is featuring a dementia storyline. There are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK – many of whom still face a huge amount of stigma and misunderstanding which programmes like Emmerdale can help to address.
“We’ve been privileged to work closely with the producers and scriptwriters to ensure the representation of Ashley’s diagnosis is accurate and we hope the show’s audience will identify with his journey. Properly scripted storylines like these can be a useful way to help many more people understand the impact of dementia.”
In the coming months, Emmerdale is to explore how Ashley and his loved ones will come to terms with the diagnosis and how it will impact his future.
Last month, it was announced that 62-year-old Middleton is to leave Emmerdale when this particular plotline reaches its conclusion, although the timeframe for his exit has not yet been decided.
“I’m actually finding the prospect of leaving very exciting,” the actor said. “It’s another roll of the dice. I couldn’t ask for a better storyline to leave the show on.”
You can watch a 60-second rundown of next week’s episodes of Emmerdale below.
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